Fabien Barel proved himself one of the toughest riders in cycling at round one of the Enduro World Series in the Chilean Andes back in April. During the first stage of the event he went over the bars hard – flying down a 30-foot embankment before landing on his head. Despite intense back pain, he then got up and raced the next two stages in an effort to salvage some points – somehow even managing a ninth place on stage three. The next day his team convinced him to go to the hospital for x-rays instead of starting the race. At the hospital they discovered that he had broken two vertebrae in that stage one tumble. Season over.
Or at least that’s what most people would think. Considered one of mountain biking’s deepest thinkers and hardest workers, Barel showed up less than six months later on the start ramp of the final round of the EWS in the town of Finale Ligure, Italy. There’s no place for a healing rider to hide in enduro racing at this level— especially at the finale so he was immediately in the spotlight.
In that race he would have to climb and descend over 8,000 feet in less than 60 miles. Sure, the climbs are un-timed, but six ruggedly steep stages plummeting through tight forests and rocky, loose ridges to the white sand of the Mediterranean would be hard, even if your back was fine. As a telling sign, he showed up a funky oval chainring and other modifications on his bike so that his jacked-up body could actually use the bike. By this point in the season, his competition had been racing around the world: Scotland, the French Alps, Colorado, Whistler. He’d spent three months in bed doing nothing.
This past Saturday, with all eyes on him, Barel stomped the first stage and took the win. On Sunday he took a second win and never finished slower than sixth. By Sunday evening, he was the winner and it looked like he’d never been injured in the first place. Comeback of the year.